By Linda Cicoira — There was a whirlwind of activity in the county coffers Wednesday as Accomack supervisors dished out another $74,000 for the demolition of the old Whispering Pines motel, earmarked nearly $107,000 to fund a 3% salary hike for county workers, voted to acquire better bonds to save $500,000, and revised their real estate tax revenue estimate to show twice what they had previously anticipated.
In March, the supervisors awarded the demolition job to Allen Clark Jr. Inc., of Atlantic, which bid $185,260 to haul away the remains of the once-booming landmark. The company was to tear down the derelict, deteriorating, and dangerous buildings that were twice set afire in an arson spree and left with rotting mattresses, mold, and trash.
“We could not come to terms” with the company, County Administrator Mike Mason reported to the supervisors about the Atlantic business. Mason asked the board to give the work to the next lowest bidder, Macsons Demolition & Environmental Services, of Norfolk, which bid $248,316, a difference of $73,966.
A $50,000 grant was obtained to help fund the project. Nearly $118,460 in derelict building funds, set aside for such projects, will also be used. The rest will come from the current county budget.
The supervisors agreed in a 7-1 vote with Supervisor Paul Muhly in opposition and Supervisor Laura Belle Gordy absent, due to illness.
“I don’t see the county getting any benefit,” said Muhly. He suggested the county acquire the property by “eminent domain,” a process in which the government can buy property for public use. “That would be a great place for a housing project,” said Muhly, who later explained the county should buy it before the buildings are torn down because the fair market value would be lower. Then, he said, all the funds to clean it could be obtained through grants.
“Is the reason you’re doing this to make it more marketable?” asked Muhly. “Put a fence around it,” he added.
“This is the last step upon us to get rid of this eyesore,” said Supervisor Robert Crockett. “Nobody dislikes spending money more than I do. This is our only recourse … a lien will be placed on the property … the public has been commenting about it for years and years and years … the net result is going to be the same. This way it will be done faster.”
County Attorney Cela Burge reminded the board that the motel was determined as dangerous by a building official and is bringing criminal activity and vermin.
“I’m not trying to prioritize projects but if we did I would guarantee Whispering Pines would be at the top of the list,” said Supervisor Reneta Major. “It just does nothing for Accomack County. We may not recoup all the money. At least we will be recouping some … What industries want to come (to the Shore) when right here on Lankford Highway we see an eyesore? It’s just plain ugly. I trust staff has done all they can do to explore other options.”
The property is owned by Whispering Pines Inc., of Dillsburg, Pa. The motel was auctioned in 2012 for $28,000 in an attempt to collect around $35,000 in back real estate taxes. The sale fell through when it was realized that the company and its president, Dusan Bratic, had filed for bankruptcy. In December, a judge decided to allow the county to move forward despite the filing.
A lawsuit was filed in Accomack Circuit Court in February to collect the delinquent tax from Bratic’s corporation.
The recently adopted fiscal 2019-20 budget gave all county employees a 2% increase based on what the state was expected to give for state-funded employees like those who work for constitutional officers and at the social services department, County Administrator Mike Mason explained. But in the end, the General Assembly gave a 3% hike and Mason wanted all employees to get the same percentage increase.